AT THE AMERICAN PUBLIC POWER Association (APPA) national conference this summer, three public utilities shared energy efficiency and demand-response best practices stories with a full house of interested attendees.
Questions flew quickly throughout the session, with ideas from across the country shared by panelists and participants alike. Here we share some of the best, from two utilities in Washington state and one in Nebraska.
Programs need to be customer friendly
"The reality in Nebraska? We do not have an REP (renewable energy portfolio), we do not have state rates ... so while not all the ingredients may be there for energy efficiency, it's the right thing to do," said Marc Shkolnick, manager, energy services, for Lincoln Electric System. As well, he added, "We are looking at peak demand, not overall conservation incentives. The big picture is we're trying to defer that next generation resource."
Shkolnick's No. 1 suggestion? "Develop a program that is customer friendly. Keeping participation processes simple and straightforward is one way to ensure that your energy efficiency program isn't [creating] barriers to participation," he said.
For Lincoln Electric, this means the pre-authorization form is simple for customers-all they have to do is sign and date it, because the contractor fills out the rest. "There are not a lot of customer questions on our form. There is no need to ask questions you don't need the answers to," Shkolnick said.
So existing fixtures, fixture types, wattage, etc., and replacement fixtures, fixture types, and the rest, are charted by the contractor. And when the customer gets the final bill for energy efficiency upgrades from the contractor, Lincoln Electric's incentive is already deducted from the bill, with the contractor responsible for seeking reimbursement from the utility, rather than the customer.
Shkolnick also advised developing and maintaining a strong relationship with local contractors. "That's where the rubber hits the road. Over one-half of our customers learned about our program through contractors," he said. In order to keep the utility-contractor relationship strong, Lincoln Electric holds a required orientation for participating contractors, and also holds program planning sessions with contractors in order to elicit feedback on the program.
Keep it simple, and look for feedback
For Andrew Grassell, energy development and conservation manager at Chelan County Public Utility District in Wenatchee, Wash., simplicity is also important. "Keep it simple. Customers are the key to the program's success," he said. "We have an agreement with our commercial and industrial (C&I) customers that is short, simple and easy to implement. It has consistent terms and conditions, and has been very successful. Sixty to 70 percent of our savings come from our C&I customers."
Grassell also recommended fostering creativity within the utility staff by allowing them to test ideas. He cited a staff-initiated "Reduce Your Use" promotion in which customers nominated themselves for participation. "We had nine residential customers, and staff conducted a pre-contest energy audit," he said. "The winner cut usage by 35 percent, and overall savings averaged 9 percent."
It's also important, he said, to keep co-workers involved in giving feedback on program ideas. Chelan County PUD has put together a Conservation Program Review Committee comprised of representatives from all parts of the utility, including financial, legal, compliance, customer service and more. "The committee meets quarterly to review the programs and changes," Grassell said, adding that internal buy-in is increased by knowing there is a robust evaluation process.
Another tip: Don't reinvent the wheel. Use history as your guide. "Learn from others," Grassell urged. "Participate in regional initiatives-you can learn a lot by what other people are doing. Get to know your neighbors, especially if another utility has like demographics, and benchmark yourself against others."
Looking to the future
Jim West, assistant general manager, customer and energy services, for Snohomish County PUD in Everett, Wash., looked to the future in terms of his utility's energy efficiency needs. "What got us here in energy efficiency projects in the past probably won't get us there in the future," he said. "For years we have pretty much known what the predictable base load is going to be. But our supply mix is changing."
The other side of the equation is changing, as well. "The marketplace and measures customers are installing are helping us to achieve energy efficiency," West said. "But the cheap and easy energy efficiency that we acquired over the years is disappearing. Commercial lighting programs are changing. In residential, it is phenomenal the savings we have achieved with CFLs, but lamps are changing, and we have to shift to systems that are more complicated and expensive to install that we are going to have to invest in with customers to achieve energy efficiency savings in the future.
"So, the question becomes: how do we take the lessons we've learned over the past 30 years and apply those in a way that helps us to develop a new model to achieve energy efficiency with customers in ways that are beneficial both to us and to them?" West said.
"Energy efficiency has got to deliver more than kilowatt-hours of savings in the future. We've tended to think about energy efficiency gains in terms of kilowatt-hours. Now we have to think about the timing of those, and the geographic placement of those," he said.
It's not an easy equation. "In the northwest, lots of hydro and wind in the spring create negative pricing," West pointed out. "We have to think of how energy efficiency plays in that world of negative pricing. It's a very different world."
But that's not necessarily bad news, just a new future, according to West: "The time has never been better in this business to think about new business models and exciting ways to do it all."
Learn as you go
Everyone encouraged continual evaluation and refinement of any program. "This is important," Shkolnick said. "Every new program is an opportunity to look, inform and improve. The 2012 version of our Sustainable Energy Program is significantly different from the 2009 program in its offerings, processes, terms and conditions. Each year is a learning experience. Be prepared to jettison strategies that don't work, but keep your focus on your goal."
Grassell concurred. "Don't be afraid of change," he said. "Constantly scan for opportunities and threats to your programs, and use data to assess them mid-stream. Don't be afraid to change when the information says so. Plans are just that: our annual plans are based on the best information we have at the time."